Commissioning of a Fireplace Screen on the Web

Commissioning of a Fireplace Screen on the Web

Whoever said that commissioning artwork over the Web is not a viable alternative for long distance communications between the designer and the client? This article documents the communications made via the Information Highway between the client, Bobbi Bridge of Mercer Island, Washington; and the designer, Enrique Vega of Apex, North Carolina.

I remember our initial contact well. The day was hot and the air was thick with the humidity that is so typical of North Carolina. I had spent most of the day forging elements for a public art project for the State of North Carolina, when I decided that it was just too sultry to keep going. I shut down the forge, washed the black soot off my hands and face, and went upstairs to my air-conditioned office to finish up some HTML editing for the ArtMetal Project.

Although the office is only fourteen feet by sixteen feet, it is equiped with a drafting table for hand drawing, a desk with a side table that has all my computer equipment on it, and forged samples of my metalwork scattered over the walls and floor. While setting my coffee cup in the cup warmer, I nudged the mouse just slightly causing my Mac to start donging. Realizing that the computer screen would refresh in a moment, I sat and leaned back on the plush office chair and took a deep relaxing breath. God, what a hot day it had been!

After launching HTML.edit alongside Netscape 1.1N, I was ready to start writing the code required to link some graphics for a Hephaistos feature article, when all of the sudden, the phone rang. I picked up the phone and introduced myself. The call was from Bobbi Bridge who had just visited my art portfolio on the web. She was very excited about the metalwork which she had just seen. She was especially impressed by the Sall Fireplace screen which I had produced back in 1992.

Bobbi asked whether I could make another fireplace screen that would incorporate some of the motifs of the Sall screen. She particularly liked the verde patina of the cattails and the contrast between the dissimilar metals. I explained to her that most of the artwork which I produce is commissioned work and is usually custom designed to conform to the architectural environment in which it will reside. I assured Bobbi that the custom works are always one-of-a-kind artworks that are unique and are not reproduced. This assures the clients that they will receive a particularly special piece of artwork that they know was designed and made just for them.

After discussing the method of payment and establishing a budget, we decided that I would write up a simple contract for the commissioning of the Bridge Fireplace Screen. As an added bonus, I took the elements which Bobbi liked most from the Sall screen, and after getting from her the size opening of her fireplace, I rescaled them to fit the 24" high by 48" wide fireplace opening. The initial drawing was produced to document my impression of what Bobbi was visualizing for her fireplace. The artwork was produced on the computer using Canvas graphics software. All of this information was then faxed to her directly from the computer.

[First sketch for Bridge Fireplace Screen]

You would think that the fax resolution would not provide adequate quality for the rendition of the drawings, but since this work was produced on the computer, I have learned, after considerable experimentation, ways to achieve the optimum 200 dpi resolution which facsimiles will transmit. Anyway, Bobbi received the fax the following day and I followed up with a telephone call.

[Picture of current fireplace]

Bobbi was pleased with the initial drawings, and the terms of the contract were acceptable. But the drawings were not quite what she had envisioned. In addition, since I had not seen her fireplace, I was not aware that there was no hearth. The brick fireplace is modern in design and flush with the wall. The room has wall to wall carpeting which meets flush with the fireplace. This detail puts a damper on the functionality of the initial design.

The original Sall fireplace screen was designed as a self standing screen and since the opening of Bobbi's fireplace is 2' x 4', I used the full opening as the frame for the design. This idea was not going to work. The alternative was to either make a hinged screen or to have hooks mounted in the fireplace and hang the screen from the hooks so that the typical feet found on self standing screens would not be needed.

After discussing the situation with Bobbi, we came to the conclusion that because the screen would weigh 50-70 lbs, and would require lifting and moving onto the carpet whenever access to the fire is required, the only alternative is to hinge the screen to the fireplace wall. Bobbi also indicated that she would like to see more fluidity and less symmetry in the design. [2nd hand drawn sketch for fire screen] I explained to her that I would go back to the drawing board and send her a hand drawn pencil sketch of a double door hinged screen. I also asked her if she would take some snap shots of her fireplace and the room. This would help me visualize the architecture and would also allow me to use the fireplace picture to superimpose the drawings onto it.

It was at this time that I realized that we were not using the communications technology to its fullest potential. Why not use the Web as a tool for communicating the initial designing of the fireplace screen? It would be so easy to put this information on a Web page and have Bobbi look at it and respond via email. I suggested this to Bobbi and indicated that I could even include color representations of the materials that I would be using on her fire screen. She loved the idea! We were now going to document and archive our conversations via the Net.

This is an exciting venture for it allows me to bring into play all of the knowledge which I have acquired both in the metalsmithing work which I produce and the computer technology which I have been using over the last eight years. Bobbi and I are still in the process of finalizing the design for her fireplace. We will be using this page to illustrate and communicate our impressions of the design and fabrication of her fireplace screen. What you will be experiencing from here on out is the interactive communications between Bobbi and me. I will also be adding pictures of the artwork while it is being forged to illustrate the processes which I will be using to create the Bridge Fireplace Screen. If you would like to comment on the design or processes used here, please send me a note.

Dear Bobbi,

I received your photographs and sketch of the fireplace screen this past Wednesday. I am really glad that you sent all the other photos of your home because I now have a good idea of your tastes in art, and also what the fireplace looks like. I have taken into account the suggestions you made on the sketch you provided and have incorporated the curved opening in the center so that the fire screen will now be hinged on both sides and will open in the center.

If you will point your Web browser to:

You will find that I have started a Web page on the commissioning of your fireplace screen. I have not linked it to my portfolio yet because I wanted you to see it and give me permission to make it available to the Net community. I believe that it is a great example of the process of commissioning artwork and also a fantastic communications tool for visual communications over large geographic locations. The Internet truly surpasses the geographic barriers placed on us by our physical locations!

As you scroll down the page, you will find where I have digitized the pictures you sent me of your home and some of the preliminary sketches I have sent you. You will also see that I have added the latest color drawing of the proposed fire screen to your existing photo of your fireplace. Please note that the center flower design is actually integrated with the curved frame which is hinged at both ends. This design allows us to create an asymmetrical pattern in the center which also incorporates the dual fire screen doors.

[Rev. 3 Computer rendering of Bridge Fireplace Screen]

I have also included a slightly larger inline gif image to give you a better idea of the design. If you click on this image, you will download the 108k JPEG image that is highly detailed and has the best resolution. You will also note that I have not added all the detail connections at this time. I will do that after we have agreed on the design.

I feel that we have come up with a beautiful fire screen that will enhance your visual world. The screen will be forged of steel, brass, and copper. The Verde patina is a natural oxide developed by application of a chemical solution to the copper cattails and grass blades. You will also notice that the orange color is produced by polishing the solid copper surfaces. All of the brass details will also be polished to reveal the high sheen gold-like color of the brass. Finally the frame and other black components will be forged of steel and can be finished by wire brushing and applying a linseed oil mixture, or we can paint the frame with a fire resistent matt black paint.

Oh, I forgot to mention the solid brass screen. It has a tight weave to prevent even the smallest sparks from getting out of the fireplace. The screen is naturally brown with a few yellow highlights. We can apply a patina to make this black or we can remove the natural oxide to reveal the bright yellow underlayment. I prefer to leave it with its natural brown color.

Let me know what you think so that we can proceed with the fabrication of this exquisite fireplace screen.

Mime-Version: 1.0
Date: Mon, 26 Jun 1995 02:13:03 -0700
To: (Enrique Vega)
From: (Bobbi Bridge)
Subject: Re: Bridge Fireplace Screen

Dear Enrique,

I am using the reply mode since I am sure it gets there addressed properly.

You certainly have my permission to use the page on the net. I find it fascinating (of course) and you write well.

The design looks interesting - the green patina appears to be a different and rather garish shade than the sall design fireplace - I am assuming that it this is just not too accurate, I prefer the more blue green tone of the latter.

I could not reach the 180 K version and am quite dissappointed as I am certain it would give me a better idea of the screen. However, I believe we are on the right track - perhaps the center design could be more-so but I cannot judge too well as the picture is small.

I loved the sketch at the top of the page - that whole picture looked great. When I clicked for the 180k picture the following came up on the screen: 404 Not Found The requested URL /edu/arts/metal/Gallery/Vega.E100image/BrigFire.jpg>180K was not found on this server.

I hope the latter gives you a clue as to the problem.

In great delight and anticipation,


By the way, I note that we are both night owls.

From: (Enrique Vega)
Subject: Re: Bridge Fireplace Screen

The patina on the Sall fireplace screen is the actual color which you will get. It is hard to match up the colors on the computer, and the colors I see here may be slightly different than what you see on your computer, but it is better than a black and white fax, isn't it? I also want to mention that the natural Verde patina varies in color dependant upon the wether and time. I will do my best to give you the blue green tones which you are looking for.

I do not understand why you could not access it. The HTML and URL code is correct for the image. If you still can't get it, try putting the following URL into your browser:

That should download the larger image file.

Mime-Version: 1.0
Date: Tue, 27 Jun 1995 11:48:26 -0700
To: (Enrique Vega)
From: (Bobbi Bridge)
Subject: good news

Dear Enrique,

The image sent by Email did not work. it was not "a valid image file."

HOWEVER, I tried the url again - and hallelooya!!!!!!! it worked.

The 180K is great - the screen looks very good. The mesh background color looks like it is just the right color - I take it this is the brown that you prefer.

If possible, I would like to see the flowers, as I previously indicated, occupy a little more space.

Perhaps making the lower left stem longer with an additional curve would do it. Or else additional stems. I'm sure I could OK it with just a sketch.

Also my husband is curious as to the opening. Can't tell from the picture.

I am so happy that the problem, whatever it was, is cured. I've had no problem before in getting any of your gates, screens, etc. I am on a MacII SI and I have Jpeg 3.3.1. I use NW Nexus which gives me access to the Internet itself. I use MacWeb and Yahoo a lot.

Thanks for the help.

I am looking forward to hearing from you. I appreciate your prompness and professionalism.

Best regards, looking forward to our next step ---


CAD drawing superimposed over existing fireplace opening

From: (Enrique Vega)
Subject: Bridge Fireplace Screen Rev.4


Here it is! Since we have modified the budget, I have added some additional design elements and completed the hinge and attachment detail. I hope that this is more to what you had envisioned.

As you know, the screen is divided into two asymmetrical halves. Each half is attached to a 2" x 2" angle iron frame that will be secured to your fireplace by hidden screws which anchor against the fireplace wall. This means that you will not have to drill any holes into the wall. The shear pressure of the screws against the wall will prevent the screen from slipping. The pre built frame will also assure a proper fit into your fireplace.

[Latest Computer rendering of Bridge Fireplace Screen]

The center flower with stem also acts as a lever to open the screens and, when shut acts as a locking mechanism that seals the doors and prevents accidental opening. This method keeps us from having to add other hardware which may not blend with the overall design.

I believe that this is the best design yet, and I am ready to order the materials and start forging this wonderful fireplace screen. I hope that you are as happy as I am with the changes that we have made.

From: (Enrique Vega)

Subject: Forge work in progress





It's been a while since we communicated. I thought that I would bring you up to date on the progress of the fireplace screen. As you can see from the picture below, I have almost completed all of the forging operations. This is probably the most difficult and time consuming part in creating the screen. The temperatures here have been in the upper 90's and well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit by the forge.

I believe that I will be completely finished in two to three weeks. I still need to make the outside frame with hinges, and the center flower which acts as a locking mechanism. There is also some sheet brass work for the leaves that hasn't been completed After finishing this other work, I will have to assemble it and the screeen by welding, brazing, screwing, and riveting all of the various components. The pieces also have to be wire brushed, cleaned and develop the verde patina on the copper cattails.

All being said, the fireplace screen is coming out gorgeous! It is taking a little longer then I originally anticipated, but I believe you will be very pleased with the final product.

If you want to see a detail of the left half of the fireplace screen, justclick on the photo below.

When I have completed your fireplace screen, I will come back and show you some of the processes which I used in making your fireplace screen.

[In Progress Forgings]

Finally completed the Bridge Fireplace Screen!

Since we have just about filled this page up, I have created a separate page for the final images of the screen. If you will go there, you will find additional details plus links to higher resolution JPEG images.

Thanks for keeping up with the "Commissioning of a Fireplace Screen on the Web." It is not over yet! In the coming weeks, I will reorganize and go through showing the actual processes used in making this beautiful fireplace screen.

[Photograph of final fireplace screen]

latest designs and wrought ironwork

click to see details of the fireplace screen

Copyright 1995-99 Enrique Vega

Last Updated: Wed, Jun 2, 1999